Anger over air space

Greece has stepped up its angry reaction to Turkish warplanes’ increasing violations of Greek air space in the Aegean, warning that this would affect Ankara’s efforts to join the EU. Athens has also briefed other organizations. «We have presented evidence to NATO’s military committee and permanent representatives. We have protested and provided evidence to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and we have decided that (Foreign Minister George) Papandreou should from now on regularly brief the European Commission, which is the competent institution to evaluate the behavior of countries that want to join the EU,» Foreign Ministry spokesman Panayiotis Beglitis told Athens’s SKAI radio. Papandreou presented a memorandum noting Turkish violations of Greek air space to the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, in Brussels yesterday. He also raised the issue with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul. The latest incidents include the harassment of two Greek warplanes on a bombing exercise between Lesvos and Lemnos on Tuesday. Gul, who also met with Verheugen yesterday, told Papandreou that he was not aware of the issue and would be briefed on his return to Ankara, diplomatic sources said. This appeared to support the theory in Greece that the Turkish military was working independently of its own government. «The EU has repeatedly stressed that it insists that on Turkey’s road toward Europe the (Turkish) military’s role must change,» Papandreou told reporters. Beglitis said Papandreou had raised the issue of Turkish violations of Greek air space in his last meeting with Gul earlier this month, while PM Costas Simitis had asked his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to end this practice when the two met on the sidelines of a Balkan conference in Belgrade on April 9. Beglitis said this was the first time the EU was being informed in writing, whereas Papandreou had repeatedly briefed Verheugen, Commission President Romano Prodi and his EU counterparts verbally. Turkey’s military claimed yesterday that Greek aircraft had harassed Turkish fighters in international air space on Tuesday. Athens notes there were 440 Turkish violations of its air space in 2000, 950 in 2001, 3,200 in 2002 and 1,530 already this year. Turkey recognizes six miles of Greek air space, not the 10 miles declared by Athens.